Prompt #1: Describe the world you come from - for example, your family, community or school - and tell us how has your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
In 5th grade, a police officer came and told us to resist peer pressure lest we fall victim to drugs and alcohol. Like many others, I regarded peer pressure as an evil force, only good to ruin lives. I never imagined that it could actually be a tremendously positive influence, but in my life, that is the role peer pressure has played. Without my friends' positive peer pressure and encouragement, I never would have joined a sport, applied for COSMOS, or volunteered at the aquarium. But it did more than just encourage participation in extracurricular activities. I became more outgoing, and as a result, I developed individuality and the willingness to explore my options instead of simply following the "safest" path.
For much of my life, I had been a shy kid, afraid to take risks or participate in anything beyond the bare minimum. To me, only school was important, while everything else was superfluous. After all, only academics would count for college, right? I had that mentality until my sophomore year, but everything changed when my friends began telling me to become involved in the entire school life and community rather than solely the classes. They urged me to join clubs and sports, arguing that they would be fun and interesting experiences. When I decided to follow their suggestions, my life turned. Before such activities, I was a chameleon, taking on whatever hue was around me and utterly devoid of individuality. But afterward, I was no longer known as the kid that took calculus as a freshman or received an A on that final; instead I became a veritably unique individual, more than just the sum of my achievements. For example, even though I had volunteered at the aquarium, people described me not as the person who volunteered there, but as one who liked to do community service as a way to help charitable causes. Finally, my individual personality was being revealed.
As a consequence of participating in more activities, my horizons expanded as I experienced more aspects of life. I realized I could not live life solely through studying and learning, but instead had to actively participate in all walks of life. Without such an epiphany, I never would have joined Key Club and experienced the joy of volunteer work, or done cross-country and realized the importance of a team. Similarly, in college I will not be content living as an introvert, but instead will explore the various offerings of university life, taking advantage of every opportunity. Life does not reward those who wait, but instead rewards those who seek it.
Prompt #2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
Wherever I was, I had always felt like an outsider, never quite able to assimilate due to my unique interests and values. But upon attending COSMOS, I finally discovered a location where I could properly assimilate. Whereas high school had a dearth of individuals with interests and beliefs like mine, COSMOS was the utter opposite. Everybody was committed to learning, especially my two favorite subjects, math and science. No longer was I relegated to the role of an outsider; instead, I comfortably worked with other likeminded individuals to accomplish common objectives. Shock is not a powerful enough word to describe what I felt; utter disbelief is better. Furthermore, during that time, I realized not only my interest in computer science, but also my own ability, for I, too, was able to run with the swift.
One significant interest developed at COSMOS was computer science. I had always loved solving puzzles and searching for the optimal solution to problems, but I had never considered computer science as a fusion of the two interests. However, at COSMOS, I participated in the robotics cluster, which featured a significant amount of programming. While I initially despised it, I began to immensely enjoy it after realizing the entire process was like an elaborate puzzle. When a program I had spent hours working upon finally worked, I would feel an intense elation. For example, after spending hours trying to program a robot to run through a maze while simultaneously reading the barcodes in it, I finally succeeded. That project made me realize what I truly love to do; I do not like rules, but I also do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Rather, I prefer an environment where restrictions and rules exist, but within those regulations, I am free to do whatever I wish. In the aforementioned example, the only restrictions were that the robot had to run through the maze and read the barcodes, but otherwise, I had free creative reign. To me, that is the appeal of computer science. A rare event occurs when one can delve into a complex academic topic and almost immediately love it, but that is precisely what I experienced.
Not only did I develop an interest in computer science, I also gained a deeper insight into my own abilities. At COSMOS, because of the concentration of intellectually committed and curious individuals, group discussions occurred frequently. Despite the difficult topics involved, I was nonetheless able to contribute meaningfully to them. For instance, the instructor once asked us to brainstorm ideas on how to power a robot composed of nanometer sized robots. That required invoking knowledge from a broad spectrum of disciplines, including physics, chemistry, and computing. In regular high school, I was not asked to exercise my brain in such a manner, so I expected I would not be able to contribute to the discussion. But much to my surprise, I did indeed have the ability to synthesize information from the wide range of prior topics I had studied and form ideas based on them. Then when a guest lecturer came and said he would describe his work with advanced sold-state devices, I panicked since I had never even heard of the topic, much less studied it. But during his actual lecture, I could indeed comprehend his talk.
COSMOS was much more than a summer enrichment program. It offered me a taste of college, and I absolutely loved it. The attitude, environment, and the general atmosphere of COSMOS left such a profound impact on me that I changed my entire attitude about learning. Whereas previously I had regarded higher education as simply a barrier to overcome in order to begin working, I now regard college as an exciting opportunity to cultivate my interests and abilities. I eagerly look forward to the prospect of once again being in an intellectually stimulating environment.
total: 1014 words
For reference, COSMOS is the California State Summer School for Math and Science. I participated in the nanotechnology and robotics cluster.
Thanks for all the help!